Are CSR professionals part of the problem?

Interesting quotes from Adam Werbach (the green activist turned Wal-Mart sustainability adviser) in an interview he did with us the other day.

“The number of CSR people who are respected by the CEO as one of the up and coming future leaders of the company, someone who is expected to become a future CEO, is one in a hundred – maybe one in a thousand.”

“In my experience, most CSR people cannot answer the question: how does your company make money and how do you connect to that? They’re much more about license to grow, risk mitigation and corporate reputation than they are about core business strategy – how you sell more stuff and save money, to make more money to keep doing it.”

“The majority of CSR work is non-strategic. It doesn’t actually build bottom line or top line profits”…

“The truth is there’s a lot of great people in CSR doing the right thing. It’s an amazing group of people. My challenge is a lot of them were outsiders who are now insiders and they are very vested in their roles. The biggest barrier [to embedding CSR], to be honest, is frequently the CSR people. I find myself in the place I’m working and I freeze them out of corporate conversation because they are stopping the change the CFO or CEO wants to make.”

Does this ring true with you?

The interview will be published in our joint July/August edition.

Here’s a link to what we’ve been publishing recently, and a link for more information on subscribing to the print version of Ethical Corporation.


  1. At Allen & York we recruit CSR professionals at all levels into corporte business and this is not a view that we would share.

    Our experience is that often the CSR professional can be too embedded in the corporate business strategy and not 'green' enough.

    Maybe this is a USA issues and is not reflected in the UK? It would be interesting to read the full interview.

    We have consultants who would be happy to give you a more in-depth view if you are interested.

    Kind regards,
    Miriam Heale
    Allen & York

  2. I realize this is a little belated; just wanted to add a thought from my perspective.

    Where I live, in Singapore, CSR professionals are rare, practically non-existent. They simply aren't seen as a necessary part of an organization's headcount.

    At best, one would find junior level executives whose function is to expend a budget predetermined – by the decision makers – to be the 'optimal' investment for CSR.

    At worst, CSR is handled by ad-hoc project groups formed by full time staff (you know, the ones with "real work").

    Most often, CSR is seen merely as an extension of the function of the communications department. (And goodness knows that communications professionals have their own share of difficulties in getting in at board-level decision making).

    Considering that Singapore is hugely cosmopolitan, and a regional hub for many multi-national firms, it seems like opportunities abound for the right mix of factors to create an explosive change here!

  3. It is arguably inevitable that CSR people should (if not must) have the required business capabilities. After all, company is a business entity in which business activities, with all its externalities do exist.

    In order to be perceived as part of business solutions (not problem) CSR people are required to see potentials to embed CSR ideas or principles to the company's core business.

    Having solved business problems with CSR approach, CSR people would be perceived as assets, as potential leaders.

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